By Michelle L. Price
Nevada has restored voting rights to ex-felons, putting the state in line with at least a dozen other states that automatically grant voting rights to people once they are released from prison.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said at a news conference Monday in Las Vegas that voting is an important part of re-integrating into the community and his office would work to spread the word about the new law.
The change moves Nevada away from a more complex system in which an ex-felon’s right to vote depended on their crime, completion of probation or parole, the year they were convicted and whether a judge approved giving them back the right to vote.
Supporters of the law estimate about 77,000 ex-felons in Nevada will regain the right to vote under the change.
One of those is Jovan Jackson, a 27-year-old who completed parole in January after serving about two years in prison on a felony charge of conspiracy to commit robbery.
“All it takes is one mistake to become a felon. That one mistake could dictate your entire life,” Jackson said at the news conference. “How do we expect people to better themselves when we make things harder for them?”
After speaking, Jackson registered to vote and smiled wide as he held up a receipt showing he completed his registration.
Ora Watkins, a 57-year old who has served a combined 10 years behind bars over the last three decades for various charges, including a drug-related charge and a felony DUI, got emotional when she registered to vote Monday.
“It feels so good,” Watkins said. “I’ve always felt like, well, ‘Why won’t they give me a chance?’ I do have a say.”
She said her six grandchildren who have seen her in and out of jail want her to do her best.
“For me to go home and show this to them, it’s a start,” she said.
Emily Zamora, the executive director of Silver State Voices, a group that works to help register voters, said her group is also working to spread the word but does not yet have a way to directly reach all affected ex-felons to let them know they can register to vote.
Gov. Steve Sisolak approved the new law in May. It’s among more than 200 new laws taking effect Monday.